The Utter Futility of Reducing Carbon Emissions

December 1, 2010

By Art Horn via the Energy Tribune

The attempt to reduce human carbon dioxide emissions to control global warming is completely and utterly pointless and doomed to failure. Well, perhaps I should qualify that statement a bit. Reducing man made carbon dioxide emissions is completely and utterly pointless if your goal is to change the future climate. On the other hand if you’re looking to make money from the trading of carbon allowances (carbon credits) than it makes a great deal of sense. If you’re looking to control the way the modern world makes energy then it makes perfect sense as well. If you’re trying to save the world from capitalists it makes it highly desirable to reduce “dirty” carbon emissions. If your mission is to extract money from developed nations and give it to those countries that have been robbed of their right to burn fossil fuels to grow their economies then it is the moral thing to do. If you are in the renewable energy business it makes perfect sense to support the reduction of carbon dioxide “pollution”. If you’re one of hundreds of environmental corporations whos mission is to save the planet at any cost, then shutting down all sources of man made carbon dioxide is a war you must win. What cause could be nobler than to save the planet?

Earth has a thick atmosphere that provides the living things on it and in its oceans with a warming greenhouse effect. This keeps the earth’s temperature at an average of 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Had there not been greenhouse effect the average temperature of the earth would be zero degrees. Life as we know it would not likely exist. The primary greenhouse gases listed in order of their contribution to the effect are: Water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. There are others but their concentrations in the atmosphere are so small they don’t contribute much effect. Water vapor and clouds are about 93% of the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide about 5%, nitrous oxide about 0.95% and methane contributes about 0.36%. It’s the combined greenhouse warming from these gases that gives the earth its current average temperature.

Studies by Raval & Ramanathan (1989) estimated that the greenhouse effect of a cloudless atmosphere is 146 W/m2 (watts per square meter) for the average earth. They further pointed out that water vapor is accounting for most of this greenhouse effect, leaving about 8 W/m2 for the total amount of atmospheric CO2, i.e. some 5%. In addition the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate changes (IPCC) 4th assessment showed that 3% of the atmospheric CO2 comes from man made sources. Global gross primary production and respiration, land use changes plus CO2 from the oceans totals 213 gigatons of carbon exchanged each year between the earth/oceans and the atmosphere. The IPCC figure also shows man made carbon emissions to be about 7 gigatons bringing the total to 220 gigatons per year. So from this we can see that making energy from fossil fuels is adding about 3% of the carbon dioxide added to the air each year. From that the total human component of the greenhouse effect is therefore about 3% of the total carbon dioxide component of the greenhouse effect which is 5%. That gives us a value of 0.1% from man made carbon dioxide. If you think that’s a small number you’re right.

The important question is how much effect does burning fossil fuels have on the temperature of the earth? The following is simplistic but makes a lot of sense to me. The average temperature of earth is 59 degrees. Carbon dioxide is 5% of the greenhouse effect so 5% of 59 degrees is 2.95 or about 3 degrees Fahrenheit. All of the carbon dioxide in the air keeps the earth 3 degrees warmer than if there were none (5% of 59 degrees). The human component of the greenhouse warming is 3 percent of 3 degrees or 0.1 degree Fahrenheit or one tenth of one degree. So our contribution to the total greenhouse effect is very small. The large exchanges of carbon that take place in nature dwarf the human contribution and will continue to do so in the future.

And yet, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says even this small amount of warming cause by human’s use of fossil fuels will cause dramatic warming in the future. This dramatic warming is forecast by the use of computer models which presumably much data with physics. The IPCC’s forecasts are flawed for many reasons but one significant error is the residency time of carbon dioxide in the air far into future. The IPCC claims carbon dioxide, once emitted into the air stays there for 50 to 200 years. The vast majority of studies say the residency time for carbon dioxide is more like 5 years.

The very small human component of the greenhouse effect has profound implications when governments are considering reducing carbon dioxide concentrations to fight global warming. The United States produces about 20% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions each year. If we were somehow able to shut down ALL sources of carbon dioxide emissions from the United States, the effect on the global average temperature would be 20% of 0.1 degree or 0.02 degrees. And that’s with shutting down everything that makes carbon dioxide! This decrease of 0.02 degrees is so small it is completely irrelevant. If achieved it would drop the global average temperature from 59.0 to 58.98 degrees and it would take billions if not trillions of dollars to achieve. After all we make 87% of our energy from burning fossil fuels. If there were a way to eliminate ALL carbon dioxide emissions on a global scale the decrease in temperature would be 0.1 degree dropping the temperature from 59.0 degrees to 58.9 degrees. Once again, completely and totally insignificant and at a cost that would quite possibly bankrupt the world.

When so much is at stake you would think this would be common knowledge but apparently it is not. Part of the reason is that there are so many competing factions looking to squeeze every dollar they can from the lie. Interestingly the Chicago Climate Exchange closed its doors recently. This can only be seen as good news. Not for Al Gore, Goldman Sacks and others but for the nation at large, very good news. Apparently the Republican electoral victory of 2010 has caused the climate exchange to be taken off life support. The Republicans took over the House of Representatives and made significant gains in the Senate. Because of this the idea of a national cap and trade law that would allow the buying and selling of carbon allowances on a national scale is over. “It is dead for the foreseeable future” said Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and the Environment, part of the Competitive Energy Institute. “Economy-wide cap and trade died of what amounts to natural causes in Washington” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund that supported cap and trade legislation.

So on the bright side not all is lost. The bad economy is dragging on and on and enough people have come to see that trying to control the climate is potentially out of this world expensive and impossible. They’ve seen that a few individual investors would make billions while nations go broke and the climate goes on doing what it has been doing for millions of years, changing on its own. If only more people knew the total temperature payback for eliminating all carbon dioxide emissions was one tenth of one degree cooling. That news would change the political climate forever.


One comment

  1. I have been bleating in the same direction from a UK point of view

    see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wy0_SNSM8kg

    I really fear for the UK.
    I can only see a very bleak future in the coming few years. I am really pleased to live somewhere electricity generation is 85% nuclear.

    It is utterly futile to think that mankind can affect climate to any worthwhile extent. The numbers are very simple and are backed up by acceptance from a renowned UK government advisor, the US Department of Energy and many other reputable scientific minds.
    Why cant we get to the nub of the problem ? with NUMBERS NOT ADJECTIVES and there is a good chance that the numbers below are in the right ballpark.

    On average world temperature is ~+15 deg C. This is sustained by the atmospheric Greenhouse Effect ~33 deg C. Without the Greenhouse Effect the planet would be un-inhabitable at ~-18 deg C.
    Running the rough and ready numbers by translating the agents causing the Greenhouse Effect into degrees centigrade:
    • Water Vapour accounts for as much as 95% of the Greenhouse Effect = ~ 31.35 deg C
    • Other Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) account for 5% = ~1.65 deg C
    • CO2 is 75% of the remaining effect when accounting for the enhanced effects of Methane, Nitrous Oxide and other GHGs = ~1.24 deg C
    • Most CO2 in the atmosphere is natural, more than ~93%
    • Man-made CO2 is less than 7% of total atmospheric CO2 = ~0.087 deg C for the carbon economies of the whole world
    • UK’s contribution to World CO2 emissions is ~1.8% = 1.6 thousandths deg C
    Maximum efforts in the UK can only achieve an insignificant and immeasurable part of that.

    And whatever is said, outside Europe the rest of the world is not joining in. The non-joiners already amount to 62% of the world CO2 emissions and 48% of the world population. But the UK is the only Government that has enshrined action on CO2 into legislation.

    The probability is that any current global warming is not man-made and in any case such warming could be not be influenced by any remedial action taken by mankind however drastic.
    So if the numbers above are even close to the right ballpark, the prospect should be greeted with Unmitigated Joy:
    • all concern over CO2 as a man-made pollutant can be discounted.
    • it is not necessary to damage the world’s economy to no purpose.
    • if warming were happening, it would lead to a more benign and healthy climate for all mankind.
    • any extra CO2 is already increasing the fertility and reducing water needs of all plant life and thus enhancing world food production.
    • a warmer climate, within natural variation, as has occurred over the last century, would provide a future of greater prosperity for human development and much more food for the growing world population. This has been well proven in the Roman and Medieval pasts and would now especially benefit the third world.

    This is not to say that the world should not be seeking more efficient ways of generating its energy, conserving its energy use and stopping damaging its environments. It remains absolutely clear that our planet is vastly damaged by many human activities such as:
    • environmental pollution.
    • over fishing.
    • forest clearance.
    • farming for bio-fuels.
    • and all other habitat destruction.

    And there is a real need to wean the world off the continued use of fossil fuels simply on the grounds of:
    • security of supply
    • increasing scarcity
    • rising costs
    • their use as the feedstock for industry rather than simply burning them.

    The French long-term energy strategy with its massive commitment to nuclear power is impressive, (85% of electricity generation). Even if one is concerned about CO2, Nuclear Energy pays off, French electricity prices and CO2 emissions / head are the lowest in the developed world.

    However in the light of the state of the current solar cycle, it seems that there is a real prospect of damaging cooling occurring in the near future for several decades as anticipated by Piers Corbyn and many others. And as UK power stations face closure according to Green Euro policies, the lights may well go out in the winter 2015 if not sooner.
    This is all because CO2 based Catastrophic Man-made Global Warming has become a state sponsored religion. And now after “Splattergate” thanks to the 10:10 organisation everyone worldwide now knows exactly how they think.

    Splattergate was classic NOBLE CAUSE CORRUPTION. It is probably the most egregious piece of publicity ever produced in the Man-made Global Warming cause. So any misrepresentation is valid in the Cause and any opposition however cogent or well qualified is routinely denigrated, publically ridiculed and as we now see literally terminated.

    And so to carry on:
    If the capital cost of Nuclear power is ~£1.4 billion / gigawatt (according to Prof David MacKay) and the newly commissioned array off Thanet cost £0.78 billion and is rated at 0.300 gigawatt but even using a generous load factor of 35% is only capable of producing on average 0.105 gigawatt , it appears that in capital cost terms alone offshore wind costs ~£7.5 billion / gigawatt or more than 5 times the cost of the equivalent nuclear production.
    This of course ignores all the additional costs of the essential parallel backup generating capacity as well as the costs of continuing feed-in tariffs, estimated at about a further £1.2 billion over the 20 year life of the project. Paying just for starters more than 5 times as much for an unreliable energy source must make utter economic nonsense.

    Supporting renewable energy, especially wind farms, is something that this cash strapped government should re-examine very carefully.

    And just to add to the nonsense, Carbon Capture and Storage can only increase electricity costs and deprive the planet of a source of increased plant fertility. It is one of many suggestions, which might reduce CO2 emissions. All are expensive and all are pretty well pointless.

    So major government savings and greatly increased national prosperity could be achieved by terminating all CO2 related Government green activities and repealing the Climate Change Bill. Otherwise the UK is “standing into grave danger”.

    Future Energy Security (destroyed by both the last Government and sadly continued by the current Coalition) is the foremost responsibility of a government to its citizens, probably more important than even than its Military Security.

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